A DORSET boxing star hopes to inspire Romany and Traveller girls into following their dreams after qualifying for the Olympics.

Ivy-Jane Smith hopes her push towards a place at next year’s Paris Olympics will continue to help shift perceptions and blaze a trail for girls to pursue careers in elite sport.

She left school at the age of 13 but was encouraged by her parents to continue her successful junior boxing career, which has lifted the Dorset light-flyweight to the brink of a place at the Games.

Smith, now 24, concedes that others within her wider community may not always have been so happy to see her pursue a less traditional path, but is comfortable assuming a role in helping to slowly change those attitudes.

“As a young girl (in my community) you usually marry and have children early, and I haven’t followed that path and some people will probably have a problem with it.”

Smith, who fights on home soil for the first time in six years in the GB Open in Sheffield next week, told the PA news agency.

“It’s my personal life and and at the end of the day you’ve got to be proud of who you are. I know there’s still an idea out there that everyone’s got to follow a certain way, and that’s the way it is.

“It’s not a nasty way, it’s just tradition, but if you keep following tradition you’re never going to know anything different. You see a lot more young girls staying in school these days and I think it’s slowly changing for the better.”

Smith’s boxing career has been fully supported by her parents, John and Ivy, since she was first encouraged to try boxing at the age of three.

In her teens, Smith won a series of national titles and caught the eye of GB performance director Rob McCracken, who rated her one of the best young prospects he had seen.

But no sooner had Smith established her place on the GB development squad at the age of 18, than she chose to abruptly walk away from the sport, ignoring her coaches’ entreaties to return and barely so much as wobbling a punchbag for the next four years.

“I was quite a young 18-year-old and travelling up to the GB gym from Southampton got too much for me,” continued Smith, who maintains her decision had nothing to do with external pressure from others.

“I hit a point where I thought, I just don’t want to do this any more. I could feel myself not giving everything in the gym. It wasn’t because of any pressure, I just don’t think I was ready for it back then, and I just quit completely.”

Seemingly lost to the sport, Smith settled into a part-time job before feeling the familiar urging to lace back on the gloves at the beginning of last year.

“I was fed up in my job so I just went back for something to do,” said Smith, who by a twist of fate also happened to move to Sheffield, home of the GB Boxing set-up, during her extended lay-off.

“I started really pushing for it, I got selected for England again and I won a gold medal in a tournament in Poland in September, which got me back onto the GB squad.

“I’d always wanted to go to the Olympics, and even when I quit I had a few regrets and thought, ‘what if?’ Now it’s almost there, I won’t disappear again. I want to go to the Olympics in Paris and make a difference.”